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Schools consider local food

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Much of the discussion at last week’s school board meeting, Thursday, June 14, centered on the topic of food. While the school lunch program is currently under scrutiny due to two years of budgetary overruns, a new Wellness Committee hopes to secure a grant to support a “farm to school” operation to get locally sourced fresh fruits and vegetables onto the trays of students at both the village’s elementary and secondary schools.

Regarding the Yellow Springs school district’s current food service provider, Sodexo, the board voted 4–0 to authorize a one-year contract renewal with the company for the 2012–13 school year and cover $35,000 of debt the food program has incurred over the past two years. The board also voted 3–1 to authorize a $.10 increase in the price of a school lunch, which will now cost $2.60 at Mills Lawn and $2.85 at the middle and high schools. For the second vote, board Vice-President Benji Maruyama and members Angela Wright and Aïda Merhemic voted yes, while Sylvia Ellison voted no. Board President Sean Creighton was absent.

The district is currently entering the fourth year of a five-year contract with Sodexo. Under Sodexo’s management over the past three years, the school’s breakfast and lunch program has grown in student participation and budgetarily. According to Shari Jones, who manages the food program in Yellow Springs for Sodexo, in 2010–11 the school served about 48,000 meals, increasing to 57,000 in 2011–12. The increase in participation was accompanied by a corresponding budget increase from $140,000 a year to $240,000 this year. But the program, which is supposed to be self-sustaining, also increased its deficit, ending last year $15,000 over budget and going $20,000 in the red this year, according to figures presented by district Treasurer Dawn Weller during last week’s meeting.

According to Weller, food service deficits are typical for school districts, whose providers are tasked to balance a complex system of needs and expenses while conforming to a changing set of federal mandates on healthier eating. The food program is also impacted by the federal subsidies it receives, which is based on the number of participating students eligible for free and reduced lunches. In Yellow Springs, the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunches (those whose family income hovers around the poverty line) has risen from 25 to nearly 40 percent of the student body over the last two years, Superintendent Mario Basora said during the meeting. Increased eligibility raises student participation in the food program, Jones said.

Next year all public school districts are mandated to rebid their school lunch contracts as part of the federal Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Weller said. For those reasons, she recommended that the board “give the lunchroom a chance” for one more year.

Sodexo district manager Jean Jacques Lessard and Jones both attended the board meeting and committed the company’s management fee of up to $30,000 to having a balanced food budget next school year.

While board members agreed to reauthorize Sodexo as the school’s food purveyor, Ellison did not support the recommended $.10 increase in the cost of school lunches because of her perception that “someone is profiting” from the current program without making sufficient gains in providing healthy, local food. According to Lessard, in response to a question from the board, of last year’s $240,000 budget, Sodexo spent approximately $42,000 on actual food costs.

But as part of the Hunger Free Kids Act, all school districts are mandated to increase the cost of a school lunch by at least $.06 to help pay for the mandate to use more fresh produce and whole grains, Jones said. And for Yellow Springs, which opted to institute a fresh fruit and vegetable bar (which students liked and used, Jones said), the increase is necessary.

In the meantime, as part of the Class of 2020 Strategic Plan, members of the Wellness Committee are seeking a “farm to school planning initiative” grant from the USDA to evaluate the opportunities for sourcing more local produce for the schools. The school board approved a grant application, presented by Wellness Committee member Amy Maruyama at the meeting, for $28,460 from the USDA, with a matching commitment of $9,504 from the school district if the request is funded. The planning initiative includes opportunities for partnering with the Antioch College organic farm and incorporating the educational elements of the program into the school curriculum.

Wellness Committee members who have worked on the grant and plan to manage its implementation if funded include Cindy Sieck, Rebecca Potter, Beth Bridgeman and Shari Jones of Sodexo. According to Jones, Sodexo works with school districts to source some of its produce from federally approved farms, and currently purchases a small amount of fruit from Fulton Farms in Dayton for the local district.

In other school business:

• In accordance with the curricular goals of the 2020 strategic plan, McKinney Middle and Yellow Springs High School plan to incorporate the theme of “hunger” into the first attempt at developing a more experiential and interdisciplinary teaching and learning style. According to McKinney/YSHS Principal Tim Krier, each course in the school will relate its content to the theme at least once per quarter to enable students to engage through nuanced and layered understanding of the issue of hunger.

• The board approved the hiring of two new teachers, Brandon Lowry as the chemistry and physics teacher at YSHS (at a salary of $40,558) and Cameron McCoy as the social studies teacher at McKinney Middle School (at a salary of $37,966). The board also agreed to hire former high school principal John Gudgel as a half-time guidance counselor at Mills Lawn (at a salary of $29,687).

• The board approved the new McKinney/YSHS and Mills Lawn handbooks for 2012–13 school year. School board member Angela Wright voiced concern that the Code of Conduct “disciplinary action” section was not specific enough for students to understand the consequences of their insubordination. Class of 2012 advisor Stephanie Triplett also suggested that parents have not been adequately involved in dialogue about the code of conduct, and cited her concern over the large numbers of students on this year’s senior class trip who were caught smoking and drinking underage. Students showed a “blatant disrespect for the school,” and “while it’s not necessarily the place to address it with the handbook, I think you solve it with dialogue and more parent involvement,” Triplett said.

School administrators said they would attempt to involve more parents and students in discussions about expectations, but both board members and Superintendent Basora remained adamant that the handbook remain somewhat loose in order for school personnel to be able to do their jobs and administer justice in accordance with the individual situation.

• The board approved a resolution to levy a tax to avoid an operating deficit of $915,000 for a period of five years. The millage rate has not officially been set by the Greene County Auditor, but Weller anticipated it would be very close to the 7.5 mills the board has discussed since early spring.


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